Sunday, May 8, 2011

Rise of the Machines: Betrayed by Garmin

I've mentioned on this blog several times my frustrations stemming from the use of my Garmin GPS watch.

At last year's Broad Street Run, a ten mile race run in excessive heat, my Garmin Forerunner 201 recorded a distance of over 11 miles. I was on the verge of casting it into the Delaware, when a fellow Garmin owner reminded me that if I'd zig-zagged to hit a lot of water stops or fire hydrants, that it could add up to considerable extra running over a 10-mile race. Since I weaved back and forth to hit EVERY fire hydrant, this made sense, and Garmin was forgiven.

At the Shamrock Marathon, Garmin was showing about a third of mile ahead of the mile markers for most of the race, and then over the course of the last five miles its accuracy seemed to decrease at it showed about 26.75 miles at the end of the race. This seemed weird, and was increasingly frustrating as I died on the wall, but my inappropriate rage at Garmin was forgotten in my relief to have finished the ordeal of the marathon. It also seems to have a lot of trouble finding satellites when I'm away from York, PA, and it completely turned into a brick when I was out of the country.

Most of the time, though, Garmin seems to work ok. Most 5Ks show up as 3.1, and its measurements usually seem consistent when I've used it on courses that I'd previously mapped out on the USATF site,, or dailymile. It's helped have at least a pretty good idea of how far I'm running on courses that I haven't previously mapped out, and it's virtual training partner feature helped me break the 24-minute mark on a 5K and will hopefully help me pace myself to a PR in the Harrisburg Mile in July.

Today, however, Garmy let me down in a new and exciting way. After my 10-mile night run on Thursday night, I was trying for 10 again today. It was a pleasant morning, but with bright sun I felt very warm, and I had the "power outage" feeling in my legs that has plagued me on and off over the last several weeks. Even so, though, I ground out the miles and was coming up to the finish, when at about 9.8 miles, as I made the final turn toward my car, Garmin started subtracting mileage.

(I don't care what you say, Garmin. I ran 10 miles today.)

I will admit, I received the Forerunner 201 as a Christmas gift from my parents, and I requested one of the lower-priced models with the thought that my parents could then afford to get one as a gift for my wife, too. I chose the 201 because I liked how the display looked and I was certain that it had the Virtual Training Partner. In hindsight, I should have gone with the 205, which promised a high-sensitivity receiver at a similar price point at the time. Or, maybe I should have realized that it was the cheapest model for a reason.

I suppose I could have gone too far the other way; a friend has one of the newer touch-screen models, and not only does it seem like a PhD in astrophysics is required to use it, he's h had trouble in cold weather when a sleeve brushes up against the touch screen. Locking it makes it tough to see the screen he wants when he wants it.

I'm not terribly surprised to see that the Forerunner 201 is a discontinued model. I'll likely milk at least a couple more years out of Garmy, but I think that when I do need a new GPS watch, I'd be wise to pay less attention to the size of the screen and more attention to the sensitivity of the receiver.

1 comment:

  1. is Garmin. Remember, it's related to the car Garmy...who is famous for laughing hysterically while saying, "recalculating."